Paralympians call for increased exposure after history-making Tokyo show

ParalmypicsGB finished second in the medal table at Tokyo 2020.

Ed Elliot
Sunday 12 September 2021 17:32

Leading members of Great Britain’s history-making Paralympics team say it is vital disability sport becomes a “continuous story” and that athletes are not perceived to “hide back in a hole” in between Games.

ParalympicsGB is riding a wave of publicity after returning from Tokyo 2020 second in the medal table following a colossal haul of 124 – including 41 golds – across an unprecedented 18 sports.

Cyclist Dame Sarah Storey, wheelchair racer Hannah Cockroft and sprinter Jonnie Peacock were among approximately 150 GB Paralympians to celebrate those achievements at Sunday’s National Lottery homecoming party at Wembley.

The high-profile trio are determined to prevent the Para movement fading from public consciousness before Paris 2024.

Storey – who became Britain’s most successful Paralympian in Japan by moving on to 17 golds with a trio of wins – told the PA news agency: “I think it’s going to be really key that we maintain this momentum and get coverage of the events in between the Games.

“We’ve seen with other tournaments in tennis, cricket and football that sporting events are constantly in the media and covered and that’s what we now need for Para sport.

“We need that continuous story being told so that people can follow their heroes that they may have watched and don’t have to wait another three years before they see their favourite athletes in the spotlight again.”

Athletics star Cockroft also contributed significantly to her country’s successes in the Far East.

Great Britain’s Hannah Cockroft has seven Paralympic gold medals (John Walton/PA)

The 29-year-old retained her T34 100m and 800m crowns to move on to seven career golds, four short of the total won by Britain’s most-successful wheelchair racer Tanni Grey-Thompson.

She echoed Storey’s comments and feels more integration of able-bodied and disability competitions – which is due to happen at next year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham – is key.

“If we see Adam Gemili run then let’s see Jonnie Peacock run in the race after, or whatever combination it might be,” said Yorkshire-born Cockroft.

“There’s no reason why it won’t work. If we give it that airtime then we can get more people inspired, more people into our sport and ultimately better performances all round.

“We need to keep reminding people that we don’t just pop out every four years – or five years in this case – and win a Paralympic Games and then hide back in a hole.

We're not just champions for one year, we're champions every year.

Hannah Cockroft

“We’re not just champions for one year, we’re champions every year.

“We need to get that on TV screens, we need to get it in papers, we need to get it everywhere so that people can come and watch and people can support us.”

While Storey and Cockroft rank among GB’s most-decorated female Paralympians, Peacock has emerged as a poster boy of the movement.

The 28-year-old was sensationally denied a hat-trick of 100 metres titles in Tokyo but his T64 race – which brought joint bronze following a four-man photo finish – was undoubtedly among the most memorable moments.

“We just need to keep being seen,” he said.

“We need to be put on the TV schedule, we need to be put on with everybody, treated fairly, equal pay, everything that goes with that and we need to be seen for the value that we can bring.

“We’ve shown that we can sell out tickets, we’ve shown that we can get people watching the TV. Promoters need to start realising that we’ve got some value.

“What’s been so good over the last few years is representation – it’s just been out there, no one has been banging on about it, they’ve just been doing it.

“You’ve finally been able to see yourself (represented). It still has a way to go but it’s definitely getting better.”